Field Research Centre | Ecotron

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Field Research Centre

The Field Research Centre (FRC) is located in the periphery of Terhills, the main gate to the National Park Hoge Kempen.

Currently the National Park is the only recognized TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) region within Belgium.

At the FRC, Hasselt University and RLKM perform, promote and support biodiversity-related research within the Limburg region, together with volunteers, park rangers and students.

The FRC hosts the ECOTRON, the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS), and is partner in Lifewatch and Long-Term Ecosystem Research Network (LTER).

As a master or bachelor student you can opt to perform your fieldwork within the National Park Hoge Kempen or its surroundings. Yearly we offer several topics or you can propose your own topic. If you are interested, please contact us.

For schools, organisations, and companies, it is possible to organize an educational excursion to the National Park or its environment. You can compile your own program and we take care of the overnights, or we can compile a tailor-made program for you. We collaborate closely with the Rangers of the National Park.

Contact us

Ecotron

The Ecotron is part of the Field Research Centre, the scientific base of Hasselt University for top international research on biodiversity and climate in the Hoge Kempen National Park. Click here to meet the Ecotron research team and partners.


The UHasselt Ecotron is a large scale research infrastructure that allows for sophisticated state-of-the-art controlled climate experiments, to study the effects of climate, and climate change on ecosystem functioning. It provides insight into the impact of climate on a given ecosystem that cannot be gained by field
experiments (too complex) neither controlled laboratory experiments (too reductive).

The UHasselt Ecotron consists of 12 closed sun-lit units, where environmental conditions can be separately controlled. Each unit hosts a lysimeter with soil-canopy column of 3.14 m2 and 1.5 m deep, where ecosystem processes can be monitored all in real time.

  • The following variables can be controlled: air temperature, air relative humidity, air CO2 concentration, precipitation, soil water tension, and soil temperature.
  • The following variables are monitored every 1 to 30 min: air CH4 and N2O concentrations, air pressure, net radiation, photosynthetically active radiation, soil electrical conductivity, soil water content, soil weight, and soil leachate weight.
  • All soil parameters are measured at 15 positions: 5 depths (10, 20, 35, 60, 140 cm) and at 3 spatial positions per depth.
  • Additionally, suction cups are sampling soil water at the same 15 positions per unit.

From these variables, net ecosystem exchange, evapotranspiration, as well as CH4 or N2O emissions can be calculated with high resolution and frequency.

Click here to learn more about the climate change scenarios and ecosystem functioning assessments in the Ecotron (under construction: link will follow!)

The Ecotron UHasselt is connected to the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) measuring station in the Mechelse Heide, which is part of the European ICOS network for measuring greenhouse gases and other weather variables. The results of the measurements are sent in near real time to the ECOTRON. The ICOS measuring station was realized by the University of Antwerp with financial help from the Hercules Foundation and FWO, and with Hasselt University as substantive partner. In 2019, the Ecotron UHasselt was equipped with educational peripheral infrastructure.

A matching observation tower was built next to the Ecotron UHasselt, the Tronton, which makes it possible for visitors to take a look through the domes of the Ecotron. Two outdoor classrooms have been set up in the vicinity of the Ecotron where the educational program of the “Ecotron Mystery for Secondary Education” takes place. In the publicly accessible area of ​​the Ecotron, there is an exhibition, including an experience stand with smartboard (in collaboration with Jo Klaps of the Department of Architecture and Art of Hasselt University).

As a master or bachelor student you can perform theses and internships within the long-term Ecotron experiments.

For companies, research institutes or other stakeholders, we offer the opportunity to conduct a project in our long-term Ecotron experiments.

Would you like to visit the Ecotron? This is possible under the supervision of Ranger of the Hoge Kempen National Park.

Ecotron behind the scenes

Ecotron mysterie

Contacts (work in progress!)


Partners interested in collaborative projects: contact Nadia Soudzilovskaia and Francois
Rineau


Prospective PhD candidates, BSc and MSc students: contact Nadia Soudzilovskaia and
Francois Rineau


Journalists interested in our work: contact Nadia Soudzilovskaia


Support our climate change research: donation to the Ecotron link to the university fonds
page Ecotron.


Visiting Ecotron for public (groups and individuals): contact Hanne Vercampt


Questions related to the Field research center: contact Natalie Beenaerts


Telephone Ecotron facility +32489340421

CaTrEIn - Lifewatch

Within the Camera Trap Research Infrastructure (CaTrEIn), a set of wildlife camera traps are placed in the National Park Hoge Kempen (in collaboration with INBO). In recent years the use of camera traps has become increasingly popular for monitoring wildlife behaviour, abundance and community structure. Camera traps allow for continuous non-invasive monitoring of species communities, without disturbing the animals. Compared to other monitoring methods, they require minimal staff input and recent quality improvements have made camera traps reliable research instruments. Nonetheless, not only do camera traps generate large quantities of pictures, one also has to identify species as well as number of individuals on those pictures. In order to allow both long term biodiversity monitoring and local research projects, data sharing is a prerequisite. Therefore data collection, storage and metadata processing have to be standardized and well documented.

CaTrEIn aims at providing the hardware (a set of high quality camera traps that can be used in different projects), in combination with a platform that allows the project management as well as annotation of camera trap images. Furthermore, a data pipeline is being developed to publish camera trap images as open data and provide archiving of the data.

Long-Term Ecosystem Research Network

The National Park Hoge Kempen is recognized as a Belgian LTER (Long-Term Ecosystem Research Network) platform within the European LTER program.

At the FRC we strive to monitor several biotic and abiotic parameters in collaboration with existing European infrastructure, belonging to other European Research Infrastructure (ESFRI) programmes, such as ICOS and Lifewatch.

Team

Prof. dr. Nadia Soudzilovskaia

Nadia Ecotron Photo
Function
Head of the Ecotron facility | Lead Ecotron team

Prof. dr. Francois Rineau

Francois
Function
Senior researcher | manager of the Ecotron research infrastructure

Prof. dr. Natalie Beenaerts

Natalie Beenaerts 370X370
Function
Head of the Hasselt University Field Research Center

dr. Hanne Vercampt

Hanne Vercampt 15
Function
Scientific communication and education manager

Kristof Grosjean

Kristof
Function
Senior technical manager Ecotron

Xander Swinnen

Xander Swinnen
Function
Technical manager | IT specialist Ecotron
  • Maria Moreno-Druet – PhD student
  • René C. Shaeffer - PhD student
  • Elena Abbatangelo – visiting PhD student
  • Wout Guedens – BSc student
  • Tjaling Rook – MSc student
  • Kasper Verhaeghe - BSc student
  • Imke Tomsin - BSc student
  • Frederique Kloosterman - BSc student
  • Inge van Frankenhuijzen - MSc student

Partners

With the support of:

Terhills
Ag Natuur En Bos
Pnc
Lsm
Hercules
Uhasselt Standaard

How to get there

Field Research Centre (FRC) - Zetellaan 52, 3630 Maasmechelen (Belgium)

GPS Coordinates: Latitude 51.0000457 Longitude 5.7042895

The Field Research Centre - UHasselt is located on Terhills, the main gate of the only national park in Belgium, the National Park Hoge Kempen.

To reach the FRC, take exit 33 on the E314 highway (Brussels - Aachen) and follow the signs ‘Maasmechelen Leisure Valley’ on a route that follows the canal for some kilometers. Keep following this road across tree roundabouts until the signs 'PARKING EUROSCOOP' and 'TERHILLS' indicate the parking lot. Continue the rest of the way (300m) walking trough the French Garden.  You'll find the Field Research Centre on your left side.